How to choose the best conferences and events in the investment management industry

A pragmatic approach to understanding and navigating the large and complex investment management events landscape.

There is an incredible diversity of conferences and events in the investment and financial industry.

Thousands of events are held each year by associations, media groups, conference organizers and industry participants, ranging from global mega-conferences to local gatherings, and everything in-between.

Events are held across every sector in traditional and alternative investing, financial advisory, wealth management, institutional investing, capital markets, banking, financial technology and more.

The size of the events space provides investment firms and service providers with an abundance of options to pursue their goals.

But with so many options, how does one choose the best events to attend, speak at or sponsor? The right event can help your business, while the wrong event will be a waste of time and money.

In this article we describe our process for helping clients select events. It involves examining three factors: event type, audience, and cost.

Understanding event types

The first question is whether an event’s format lines up with your business goals. Are you trying to raise capital, sell products, build brand recognition, or gain important insights? And what types of individuals are you trying to reach, in which sectors and geographies?

Your specific goals determine which event types to target. For example, a content-focused event wouldn't be a good fit for a hedge fund wanting 1:1 sales opportunities. And likewise a relationship-focused event would disappoint a private equity professional looking to build knowledge on an industry sector.

To identify an event's type, you might first look to an event’s name. Unfortunately, this isn’t always helpful.

Titles such as conferences, seminars, roundtables, forums and summits aren’t used in a consistent way in the industry, and can mean very different things when used by event organizers.

As a result, we look past titles and classify events based on their core attributes. In our work building the FiLists events database, we created a classification system of nine event types:

  • Awards: an event recognizing individuals and/or organizations for their achievements. This is usually a reception or dinner, but can also be an event featuring award winners on panels.
  • Briefing/Roundtable: a shorter and smaller event focused on a narrow topic. The typical example is a panel discussion followed by some networking.
  • Cap Intro: an event that lets investment managers pitch their fund or strategy to investors, either through presentations to an audience, or 1:1 meetings.
  • Conference: a longer event with a wider topic scope, larger audience, and greater mix of elements. A typical conference has a range of content sessions (panels and keynotes), social and networking breaks and meals, and sometimes space for exhibitors.
  • Educational: an event comprised of content sessions designed to teach a topic, often in a structured class-type format. Educational events usually don’t have networking aspects.
  • Exhibition: an event where an exhibition floor is the main focus. While many conferences have some exhibition space, an exhibition’s main purpose is to have a significant amount of exhibitors and attract professionals looking to meet those exhibitors.
  • Membership: an event held for an organization’s membership, such as a trade association or networking group. The event may or may not be open to non-members.
  • Networking/Social: the core focus of the event is networking or socializing, not content. The typical example is networking drinks that gather professionals from a specific industry.
  • Philanthropy: an event where the purpose is to raise money for a charity. This is usually a charity dinner, but also could include a content-driven event like a “best ideas” conference, where proceeds go to charity.

To navigate these event types, we look at the underlying business benefits that each type offers participants. There are four main benefits we’ve identified – each is described below along with their matching event types.

  • Buy-Sell: investment managers and service providers directly present or pitch their solutions to investors and buyers. This can happen through Cap Intro and Exhibition events, and sometimes through Conferences that offer mechanisms and space for buyers and sellers to connect and meet.
  • Content: experts share their views and knowledge. This usually means presentations, panels, keynotes and fireside chats. It can also mean industry professionals sharing their knowledge with each other in roundtables or breakouts. Content is a key feature of most Briefing/Roundtable, Conference, Educational and Membership events.
  • Relationships: people gather to enhance existing relationships or create new ones. The typical way is an unstructured activity like a cocktail reception or meal, but it can also be something structured like speed networking or small group discussions. We see relationship building in all event types except for Educational, but most often find it at Conferences, Membership and Networking/Social events.
  • Visibility: companies or individuals increase their exposure. Speakers and sponsors are seen and heard by large audiences at some events. In addition, visibility may be extended beyond the event through media coverage, online replays of sessions and marketing by the organizer. Visibility is highest at large gatherings like Awards, Conference, Exhibition and Philanthropy events.

In summary, first identify the business goals and business benefits you seek, and this determines the types of events to look for.

Finding your audience

Choosing events with the right audience is the most important factor. While a sub-optimal event type means the event will be less effective in meeting your business goals, if an event's audience isn’t relevant for you, the effectiveness of the event is essentially zero.

Identifying the audience isn’t always straightforward. In an ideal world, event organizers would give the list of attendee names in advance to anyone who asks. In reality, they don’t.

Attendee lists are often closely guarded and given in advance only to sponsors. Also, attendees can vary year by year, so event providers may not be completely sure about the audience ahead of time.

To get a sense of an event’s audience, we look at several factors:

  • Event organizers provide attendee information in various levels of detail, ranging from a general description, to % breakdowns by type, to lists of attendees by title, to actual names and companies. In general, when asking for details, the more you are asked to pay, the more you have the right to know.
  • The list of current or prior sponsors tells you which firms find significant value in the event. If you see other firms that are similar to yours, that's a good indication that the audience is relevant.
  • An event’s agenda tells you about the audience the event is targeting. The financial industry is complex, and nuances in audiences are important. Agenda sessions communicate specifics about attendees the organizer is trying to attract.

In addition, if you know people who have attended an event, it can be valuable to discuss their experience and how well the event lined up with the organizer’s descriptions.

However, we don't recommend relying on recommendations alone. Firms should try to expand their opportunity set by looking beyond their immediate circle of knowledge and contacts.

Interpreting event costs

The third aspect is event costing. An event's pricing structure provides valuable information about the event's audience and format.

Event organizers set prices for different participant types based on two main things:

  • Value to participant: events must cover their costs, and most are looking to make a profit. Organizers price events based on what different types of participants are willing to pay, which in turn is based on historical demand and the value participants perceive from the event.
  • Value to organizer: event organizers decrease or eliminate costs for participants they are trying to attract in order to appeal to other, paying participants. A common example is institutional investors attending for free, while investment managers pay.

What attendees are asked to pay communicates a lot about the event's audience. If, for example, you are an investment manager and your ticket is "free", it's likely that the audience will be managers like you, along with service provider sponsors who are hoping to meet you.

On the other hand, higher prices or "sponsor only" registration for managers often indicate a meaningful presence of institutional investor or wealth management allocators.

Pulling it all together

Evaluating events based on their type, audience, and cost is essential to choosing the most promising events to participate in as an attendee, speaker, exhibitor or sponsor.

Yet, even with careful research and evaluation, it's impossible to predict with 100% accuracy which events will be the best to attend. New events are constantly being introduced, and established events evolve year by year.

Finding the "best" event is a highly firm-specific assessment. It's not unusual for two attendees at the same event to report vastly different takes on the event's value. Even with firms in the same sector, they may have different goals, brands and marketing styles.

The final aspect of choosing events is being open to experimentation and taking a long-term view.

By engaging with events in a systematic way, you can continuously upgrade your events strategy by keeping events that are working, and trading out ones that aren't.

Eventually this process should result in a set of events with a high return on investment, which become an essential and effective part of a firm's marketing and growth strategy.

To learn about how we can help investment firms drive sales and growth through marketing and communications strategy (including in-depth, customized conference research), read more about us or send us a note.

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